Since the 2006 season, the Miami Marlins have employed seven different managers. As the team embarks on its next quest to find what kind of leadership will actually work in sticky, sweaty Florida, the franchise is poised to hire its eighth different man to lead the dugout in the last decade alone. Led by an owner who is known for micromanaging and a front office with an unclear power structure, the Marlins’ managerial job is one of the worst in all of baseball.
Some will point to a promising young core of talent led by Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez and Dee Gordon and ask how someone could hold that stance. Others may even suggest the idea of tabula rasa—a blank slate—serves as a welcome sign for someone who is seeking an opportunity to build something special. But in order to eclipse (realistic) expectations on a regular basis, that manager will have to put his trust into the idea that Miami is capable of creating an environment that breeds success instead of welcoming failure.
And that’s where it all comes apart for Don Mattingly.
Short of winning the World Series, Mattingly was never going to continue as Los Angeles Dodgers beyond the 2015 campaign. Groomed to take over the position before the currently installed front office had arrived, Mattingly and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman seemed to be rarely aligned in how they saw the game. Had Mattingly stayed on board with the Dodgers, he would have entered the 2016 season with the proverbial “lame duck” tag, a scenario that hardly ever works out favorably for any manager in baseball’s current landscape.
After the Dodgers and Mattingly announced a “mutual” divorce that would allow both sides to explore new opportunities, it didn’t take long for either side to identify their next move. While Gabe Kapler’s name has been floated relentlessly for Los Angeles and it seems like just a matter of time until he’s the Dodgers next manager, it’s been all about Mattingly in Miami for the Marlins.
Mattingly is the frontrunner for a position that promises no direction and can’t guarantee success. Despite how good an uncertain future may seem, the New York Mets are going exactly nowhere, the Washington Nationals promise to rebound from their embarrassing season and both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies have already started aggressive, expeditious rebuilds designed to get both franchises back into contention.
And how can we be so sure that the Marlins’ future includes the players currently on the team, anyway?
This is a franchise that has done nothing to earn the benefit of the doubt, turned over the roster at seemingly every opportunity and demonstrated that not all of their moves are made in the interest of trying to win. As you begin to shake out the Marlins’ jigsaw puzzle from the box and remove all of its pieces, the complete picture—with clearly more questions than answers—becomes incredibly difficult to construct together. Should Mattingly take the Marlins gig with promises about the future as his only current security?
It’s not like sitting out for the season is all that desirable in Mattingly’s case, either. His questionable managerial resume isn’t suddenly about to change. Moving out of the game presents a future filled with uncertainties while remaining in a manager’s chair guarantees he stays in the game. Mattingly isn’t someone as widely revered as Joe Maddon or Terry Francona in terms of how he can impact a team’s direction, so there is unlikely to be a sudden bidding war for his services should multiple jobs become unexpectedly available. This may be the last opportunity Mattingly gets to manage in the big leagues for some time, and for someone who waited so long to get his chance at exactly that, there is a distinct danger in overlooking a guaranteed present for a hazy future.
Mattingly can either attempt to captain a ship without a clear course of direction and final destination, or he can take himself out of the game he’s fought so hard—for so long—to remain an integral part of as both a player and manager. Regardless of his final decision—and it sure sounds like he’s going to become Miami’s next lead man—Mattingly’s no-win proposition is clear for anyone to see so long as their eyes are open to reality.